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After leading the Massachusetts Republican Party for six years, Kirsten Hughes is stepping away as chairwoman and party insiders are looking at least at a trio of possible contenders for the post.
Hughes, a Quincy city councilor who took over as party chairwoman in 2013, emailed members of the Republican State Committee on Nov. 16 to let them know that she would not be seeking a fourth term in January.
"While it has been my honor and privilege to serve our party, I have decided the time is right for me to pass the torch to a new leader," she wrote.
After getting wiped out in every statewide race except governor this cycle and losing three seats in the Legislature, the party, with Gov. Charlie Baker at its head, will be looking for someone new to take the reins of its fundraising and candidate recruitment efforts.
Rep. Geoff Diehl, who will be leaving the Legislature in January after losing his long-shot bid to topple U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren in November, has already expressed his potential interest in the position should Hughes step down.
"I am reviewing all my options," Diehl told the News Service in an email on Wednesday. "I'm pleased to see that so many people are willing to support me."
Diehl, however, could be joined by his fellow lawmaker Rep. Peter Durant of Spencer.
Durant sent an email to state committee members the same day that Hughes announced she wouldn't seek another term.
"As we approach a new year and new campaigns, we can chose [sic] to accept that as Republicans this is the best we can do, or we can try and do things differently. I think it's time to do things differently and I believe you do too. We need to prepare for 2020 and it's time to stop making excuses," Durant wrote.
Durant highlighted his own hard-fought, first victory in 2010 over former Democrat Rep. Geraldo Alicea, and his work to help elect his former chief of staff and now Rep. Joseph McKenna, as well as Reps. Donald Berthiaume and Kate Campanale. He also called attention to his work in 2012 to build an election database application that uses a proprietary algorithm to "look at voters in a new way." He said he built it because he was unhappy with what was being offered to candidates by the party and private vendors, and said it's now used by more than 40 candidates and sitting lawmakers.
"I know what it takes to build great candidates and put them in a position to win," Durant wrote. "I believe that I am the only candidate in this race that can accomplish the task of bringing this party together to work in concert to accomplish legislative victories."
MassGOP Treasurer Brent Andersen is also looking to move up the party ranks, and will seek the chairmanship, he confirmed. Andersen has been the party treasurer since 2003, and a member of the state committee since 2000.
"Yes, I'm running," Andersen told the News Service on Wednesday during a brief conversation. In a follow up email, Andersen said, "I am extremely encouraged by the support that I am receiving from my fellow State Committee Members, Republican Elected Officials, and activists. I'm looking forward to the campaign ahead and to discuss my plan to unite Republicans under Ronald Reagan's big tent."
Hughes was travelling and a spokeswoman said she would be unavailable for an interview on Wednesday, but spokeswoman Naysa Woomer confirmed Hughes's decision to step down in January.
Hughes took over as party chairwoman in January 2013 with the support of Scott Brown, who had just lost his re-election bid to Warren.
She had been senator's deputy finance director, and eked out a win over Pepperell Republican Rick Green, the founder of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance who ran unsuccessfully this cycle for Congress in the 3rd District against Congresswoman-elect Lori Trahan.
In the ensuing years, Hughes was in the chair for two gubernatorial victories by Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and as the party fought to maintain its gains in the Legislature from 2010 and get footholds in races for other constitutional offices.
"During the next two years, we will build on our recent successes: growing the grassroots, investing in our data-driven field operation, and electing Republicans up and down the ticket. As we enter a new era of unified GOP leadership, I'm excited about the MassGOP's ability to advance our shared priorities," Hughes said following her re-election in 2017.
Democrats held large super-majorities in the Legislature when Hughes arrived and, despite some GOP wins over the years, they are still a distinct minority on Beacon Hill.
In her email this month, Hughes expressed pride in the two victories of Baker and Polito, and said the MassGOP had added 17 new Republican legislators on Beacon Hill, including six that were slotted into seats previously held by Democrats. She also touted the expansion of the MassVictory program, which helped deploy new technology and field staff to knock on doors and make phone calls for candidates, and the more than $3.5 million the party has spent to support GOP tickets since 2013.
"Those successes have been made possible thanks to a stronger, more enduring campaign infrastructure, which has made a meaningful difference for
Republican candidates at all levels of government," Hughes wrote.
Marty Lamb, who held on to his seat on the state committee despite Baker's attempt to oust him two years ago, said he will support Diehl if the Whitman Republican runs. Lamb and Diehl have worked together before on a ballot campaign to repeal a law indexing the gas tax to inflation, and Lamb ran a political action committee that supported Diehl's campaign for U.S. Senate.
"I wish Kirsten all the luck in future endeavors. She's put a lot of work in, but I do think it's time for a shuffling up and realignment," he said.
Lamb said there are two "mindsets" within the state committee on how best to build the party — from the top down, or the bottom up. Lamb prefers the latter approach.
"New blood is always good," he said.
While the election is not until January, the State Committee does have a meeting planned for Dec. 12 where the chairmanship race figures to be on center stage, and the final slate of candidates could become clearer.
Alan Waters, a Mashpee Republican who opened a committee to run for U.S. Senate this year, but didn't, is urging the committee to make him a salaried co-chair or vice-chair, positions that don't currently exist.
"Candidates run for office, then stop campaigning after the election. I want to run the Mass GOP race 12 months a year all over the state, from 'hood to highland, special projects, traditional projects, grassroots initiatives, free enterprise celebration with small business. Sales, marketing, cheerleader. I am an outsider, conservative by nature, moderate by intent. The Republican Party looks good on paper, we need to look better in the field," Waters wrote in an email of his own.
Waters described himself as "a black man with a plan to help save America from the Progressives, and with a smile."
The wild card in the contest to succeed Hughes is Baker and how directly he chooses to get involved in vote wrangling.
Baker, during his four years in office, has resisted fully immersing himself in party politics after stacking the 80-member state committee with loyalists in early 2016. While he has campaigned and helped raise money for some GOP legislators and candidates seeking open House and Senate seats, he has been less involved in trying to knock off incumbent Democrats.
One person close to Baker said the governor does not yet have a preferred candidate in the race to succeed Hughes. "We'll wait and see," the adviser said.
This article was originally published on November 28, 2018.
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